By the road in Guerrero
a cattle cargo truck stops
at an incline with a flat.
Two brown bulls stand on the bed
bound by the horns to a yoke—
each captive, hoof-bruised and skinned
at the talus, depending
on his partner for balance.
At the feet, a splash of blood
fiery as a spill of satin,
bubbling down like lava.
A wound burning through the wood?
Not so. The left bull's left horn
broke and flew off the head like
a bottle-cap. Defected,
the horn dropped into the brush,
biting through, tip down, making
its first indentation on
its own. Now the bull's skull's left
unplugged like the puckered lip
on a plastic baby made
hollow by an absent thumb.
Stone Anahuac gods have mouths
that empty, that round. This hole's
center is sticky as if
the bull had stuck its black tongue
inside for comfort, the way
we tickle the missing tooth's
gum. Will it grow another?
The bull's left eye, panic-struck,
doubts it, set ablaze with pain.
The head's third socket shocks him
into thick paralysis.
The second bull doesn't move
contemplating a collapse.
He gazes at his partner—
eye reflecting throbbing eye.
There is no seeking pity,
no screwing the horn back on.
"Horn" originally appeared in So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water Until it Breaks ( U. of Illinois Press, 1999).